Welcome to the blog about
Consular and Public Diplomacies
Consular and Public Diplomacies
For most people, there is always confusion about what a Consulate/Consul does and what are the differences with an Embassy/Ambassador. I believe there are several reasons why this mix-up:
However, consular affairs have increased in their relevance in the international arena, and Consular Diplomacy has risen accordingly.
As I mentioned in the post about the concept of Consular Diplomacy, a significant development was the creation of the Global Consular Forum (GCF), “an informal, grouping of countries, from all regions of the world fostering international dialogue and cooperation on the common challenges and opportunities that all countries face today in delivery of consular services.”[ii]
In this post, I will analyze the GCF and the reports of the three meetings that have taken place. But before, let´s talk a bit about the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963.
The convention was the first and only multilateral agreement on consular relations. It codified into law many practices that were already part of the customary law regulating consular affairs. Previously all the arrangements were bilateral with a few regional ones.
The GCF is a way for countries to discuss the changes in consular relations since the convention almost 60 years ago and topics not covered by it, such as dual nationality.
So, let´s start with the meeting where the GCF was created.
B. The first meeting and establishment of the Global Consular Forum.
The first meeting took place in Wilton Park, United Kingdom, in September 2013 with the participation of 22 countries, a representative of the European Commission, and selected academics from around the world.[iii]
The Forum´s report is a trove of information for people interested in Consular Diplomacy. It covers a wide variety of topics, from dual nationality issues to surrogacy challenges and assisting citizen with mental health issues to ever-growing expectations of personalized consular services and interest from politicians,
I strongly recommend reading the report because it is an excellent summary of consular services' current most critical challenges. The report has six sections which have additional subthemes:
At the meeting, the participants agreed to formalize its Steering Committee that has the responsibility “…to develop an action plan, expand the membership…and improve upon the Forum´s model following this first experience.”[v]
The meeting was very valuable due to the following reasons:
Some of the proposals included in the section “Ideas for the future” are essential, so it is worth highlighting them.
The “exchange of lessons-learned, best practices and policies on common issued faced by governments will help countries to maximise their resources, avoid ´reinventing the wheel´ when responding to the changing face of consular affairs and to facilitate collaboration.“[vii]
Many countries exchange information on consular affairs, but they usually do it bilaterally, with no outside participation. Therefore, the Forum is an excellent addition because, besides government officials, academics were invited. And the meeting reports underline the need to better engage with stakeholders to improve the provision of certain consular services.
Another proposal of the first meeting was that “countries could consider jointly engaging academics to translate policy dilemmas into research themes on issues such as global trends affecting the consular function, technological innovation; politically complex legal issues; expectation management; the limits of state-v-individual responsibility; how to leverage private sector influence in consular work; compiling n inventory of lessons learn from past crises, or assistance in drafting a consular agreement template.”[viii] It is a magnificent idea, which would help expand the limited scholarly work available today on Consular Diplomacy.
For example, an exciting development afterward was done by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs by sponsoring a project around the idea of the “duty of care” from 2014 to 2018.[ix] Two of the outcomes of the research was the publication of a special issue of The Hague Journal of Diplomacy titled “Diplomacy and the Duty of Care” in March 2018 (Vol 13, Iss. 2) and the book The Duty of Care in International Relations: Protecting Citizens Beyond the Border in June 2019.
Another proposal presented by the GCF was the need to have a “more structured dialogue with external partners involved in consular affairs, such as the travel industry, legal officials, NGOs, technology companies and academia.”[x] I think this is quite necessary, as we saw it at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it is not being implemented strategically and comprehensively.
One idea that could be more difficult to achieve, proposed at the Forum, is to evaluate the possibility of the “co-location, co-protection and co-representation of countries in both crises and also more routine consular representation.”[xi] These ideas present many challenges for MFAs.
C) 2nd meeting of the Global Consular Forum (Mexico 2015)
The second meeting of the GCF was organized in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in May 2015. As the previous one, a report was published afterward titled “Report: Global Consular Forum 2015.”
This time, representatives of 25 countries and the European Union attended the event. However, the report does not mention any scholar's participation in the meeting, So they might not have attended, at least officially, as the previous one.
In preparation for the meeting, some Working Groups, with the assistance of the Steering Committee and the Secretariat, developed discussion papers on the six key themes of the conference:
Additionally, improving consular services was an additional key theme discussed during the session.
In the section “International legal and policy framework”, the report describes a research paper's results about 57 bi and plurilateral consular agreements. It highlights “common needs and identified areas whereby the VCCR could be supplemented, including the prospect of developing agreed guidelines to facilitate the sharing of good practice.”[xiii]
This research demonstrated the commitment of the forum members to promote further studies about consular affairs and diplomacy. The concrete proposal could also streamline the exchange of information regarding consular issues, which could boost the government´s responses.
I enjoyed reading some of the lessons-learned of the consular crisis management in the aftermath of the big earthquake that devasted Nepal in April 2015. It reflected the complexity of the situation and the fast-thinking and creative ways consular officials responded.
Again, the issues of dual citizenship and consular assistance to persons with mental illness were highlighted in the report, which means are some of the situations that are still on top of the list for consular officials across the world.
The inclusion of “migrant workers” as one of the key themes reflects the priority of this issue for Mexico and other members of the Forum. In the article “Providing consular services to low-skilled migrant workers: Partnerships that care,” Maaike Okano-Heijmans and Caspar Price identify the GCF as a “facilitators of [the] efforts …to address the plight of [low-skilled] migrant workers, aiming to protect their rights…”[xiv]
The report contains the agreements reached during the second summit of the Global Consular Forum, including:
The second meeting was deemed a success and included some topics previously discussed while also adding new themes relevant to consular affairs. It was agreed to hold the third meeting in 18-months, so preparations began for that.
D) 3rd meeting of the Global Consular Forum (South Korea 2016)
Seoul, South Korea, was the host city of the third meeting of the GCF in October 2016. Thirty-two countries and the European External Action Service attended. Again, in this gathering, there is no mention of the participation of other than government officials.
While reading the “Seoul Consensus Statement on Consular Cooperation,” the first thing I realized was that it has a very different format, compared to the summaries of the previous two meetings, which were published under the Wilton Park seal.
The consensus has the traditional format of a statement of an agreement of a multilateral meeting, not a summary of the discussions. This implies that a certain amount of negotiations took place before and/or during the proceedings to agree on the consensus statement's terms.
A positive innovation was to mention the Forum's interest to cooperate with small and developing states, so they can also benefit from the mechanisms' efforts.[xvi]
As in previous reports, it highlights the key themes discussed:
Out of the five topics, only one was new, “Improving support for further forum meetings, " reflecting the maturation of the mechanism and the need to find additional resources to make it sustainable.
Mental illnesses of people abroad continued to be a concern because it was included in the document,[xviii] as was in the two previous reports. Besides, the proposition to engage with stakeholders, including other government agencies, was also included. [xix]
Regarding crises management, the consensus statement includes a reference to terrorist attacks,[xx] most likely as a result of the different attacks that occurred since the last GCF meeting, such as those in Paris (Nov 2015), Brussels (March 2016); Nice and Munich (July 2016).
It is noticeable that in the “Consensus Statement”, the forum member thanked the government of Canada for undertaking the responsibility of the mechanism´s Secretariat.[xxi]
The report's different format, the inclusion of a statement about the efforts´ sustainability, and the language used demonstrate the GCF's evolution from an idea that grew out of the Wilton Park meeting in 2013 to a more formal (and some would say stiffer) arrangement. Notwithstanding, the lack of the organization of the fourth meeting in four years could mean a stalemate in its progress.
E) Why the GCF is important?
The Forum is the perfect example of one of the forms of Consular Diplomacy presented by Maaike Okano-Heijmans in the paper “Change in Consular Assistance and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy”. The GCF participation indicates that “governments attach increasing importance to and are becoming more involved in consular affairs at the practical as well as policy levels.”[xxii] The GCF provides both practical information and demonstrates the increasing relevance of consular services in the overall foreign policy.
The idea of a diverse group of countries gathering to discuss consular services' transformation is a milestone. Identifying common challenges and searching for better tools and enhanced collaboration demonstrates the growing relevance of Consular Diplomacy at foreign affairs´ ministries.
While some regional collaboration schemes include exchanging information and consular services practices, such as the Regional Conference on Migration, the GCF is the only multilateral mechanism and should be reactivated. Particularly now, when enhanced consular cooperation is required to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
I highly recommend reading the reports that are available on the GCF webpage http://globalconsularforum.com/
[i] According to Geoff R. Berridge, a prolific author about diplomacy and Senior Fellow of the DiploFoundation, the amalgamation of the Diplomatic and Consular branches occurred after a push by consular officers. Germany started in 1918, followed by Norway (1922), the U.S, (1924), Spain (1928) and the U.K. (1943). For some countries, like Mexico, this process took place in the latter part of the 20th Century. Berridge, G.R., Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, Fifth Ed, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 135-136.
[ii] Wilton Park, “Global Consular Forum 2015 (WP1381)”.
[iii] Global Consular Forum, “Mission and Overview”, Global Consular Forum webpage.
[iv] Murray, Louise, Conference report: Contemporary consular practice trends and challenges, Wilton Park, October 2013.
[v] Murray, Louise, Conference report: Contemporary consular practice trends and challenges, Wilton Park, October 2013, p. 1.
[vi] The Steering Committee is formed by: Australia, Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, South Africa, Republic of Korea, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom. Global Consular Forum, “Mission and Overview”.
[vii] Murray, Louise, p. 7.
[viii] Murray, Louise, p. 7.
[ix] For more information about the project, visit “Duty of Care: Protection of Citizens Abroad (DoC:PRO)”, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.
[x] Murray, Louise, p. 7.
[xi] Murray, Louise, p. 7.
[xii] González, Celeste; Martínez, Andrea, and Purcell, Julia; “Report: Global Consular Forum 2015”, Wilton Park, July 2015, p. 1.
[xiii] González, Celeste; Martínez, Andrea, and Purcell, Julia; “Report: Global Consular Forum 2015”, Wilton Park, July 2015, pp. 3-4.
[xiv] Okano-Heijmans, Maaike and Price, Caspar, “Providing consular services to low-skilled migrant workers: Partnerships that care”, Global Affairs, Vol. 5, Iss. 4-5, March 2020, p. 428.
[xv] González, Celeste; Martínez, Andrea, and Purcell, Julia; “Report: Global Consular Forum 2015”, Wilton Park, July 2015, pp. 6-7.
[xvi] Global Consular Forum, “Seoul Consensus Statement on Consular Cooperation”, October 27, 2016, pp. 2 and 4.
[xvii] “Seoul Consensus Statement on Consular Cooperation”, pp. 1-4.
[xviii] “Seoul Consensus Statement on Consular Cooperation”, p. 4.
[xix] “Seoul Consensus Statement on Consular Cooperation”, pp. 2-3.
[xx] “Seoul Consensus Statement on Consular Cooperation”, p. 3.
[xxi] “Seoul Consensus Statement on Consular Cooperation”, p. 4.
[xxii] Okano-Heijmans, Maaike, “Change in Consular Assistance and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy”, Netherlands Institute of International Relations ´Clingendael´, February 2010, p. 23.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on this blog are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of any other authority, agency, organization, employer or company.
Rodrigo Márquez Lartigue
Diplomat interested in the development of Consular and Public Diplomacies.